Dear World. Don't believe Irish stereotypes

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

Dear Rest of the World,

We hope this finds you well. The weather here has been quite cold this week, and one of our Senators said he wouldn’t get into a taxi driven by any single one of you, but otherwise we’re keeping well.

Anyway, to the awkward matter at hand. We were hoping you could do Ireland a favour. Don’t worry, we’re not asking for more cash! We promised to pay you back for the, you know, economic “situation”, and we’ve got the payslips to back that up, so don’t you worry.

No, this correspondence arises out of the global news story arising from some Irish councillors’ views on drink-driving. If you wouldn’t mind, we’d like to address some inaccuracies in recent headlines.

“Irish council paves way for drinking and driving” (the Daily Telegraph). No it doesn’t.

“Lawmakers in Ireland Vote to Allow ‘Moderate’ Drunk-Driving” (Gawker). No they didn’t.

“Ireland may allow ‘moderately’ drunk driving” (Salon). No it won’t.

“ ‘Drunk Driving’ Permits Approved By Irish County Might Let Rural Drivers Imbibe, Drive.” (Huffington Post). Imbibe? Look who’s been logging on to thesaurus.com.

“Irish County Legalizes Drunk Driving” (ABC News). Seriously, it’s a nation’s reputation you’re toying with. You could have just called one of us at random to check it out. We can still afford phones.

You know who you are

And on it went, World. You know who you are. New Zealand, Australia, Canada, probably lots of other non-English-speaking countries whose results my version of Google News didn’t bother to give me.

Then, a full 24 hours after the story broke, leaving facts to eat dust, the BBC’s Breakfast television programme got in on the act. Its presenter introduced the item by saying: “People who live in isolated rural areas of Ireland could be given the freedom to go to the pub, have a few drinks and then drive home without running the risk of being arrested.” (No. They. Couldn’t.)

The councillor who proposed the motion, Danny Healy-Rae, was interviewed live. The first thing he did was to say hello to the television show’s “listeners”. At this point, the Irish public collectively banged their heads off the breakfast table in resignation. You might have noticed. It caused a minor tidal wave in the Irish Sea.

In your defence, World, you will not have been aware of the Healy-Raes before. You will not appreciate that they are like Russian dolls: every time you think you’ve reached the last one, another, more minor version pops out.

There are four of them in public life, including the paterfamilias, Jackie. Danny’s son Johnny was one of the five who voted in favour of the idea. The family specialises in showboating and twists of logic that are quite elegant in their own way.

Only last year, Danny’s brother Michael (a member of parliament here) made the ludicrous suggestion that 2013 number plates should avoid using the number 13 for superstitious reasons. Actually, that one was adopted, so bad example. But you get the point.

Even though the drink-driving story received an embarrassing level of coverage in Ireland too, we understand the rules of the game. We know the story is representative of a world view so narrow it can be seen only through the beer taps on a pub counter.

We also know that the councillors’ motion has no power whatsoever. Honestly, if five toddlers were to have made the suggestion in finger paint, it would have had almost as much weight.

You could not know any of this, World. Still, the story came in a week in which a viral video of a “funny Irish news report” was also doing the rounds. This hilariously detailed “report” on a fight was actually from a TV comedy show, Irish Pictorial Weekly, and its excellence came from being so close to the real thing that even Irish people were passing it around Facebook as genuine.

But what is worrying is that both relate to particular stereotypes – drinking and fighting – that Ireland is uncomfortable with. We understand. We ourselves are not strangers to the lure of a good stereotype.

But we ask this: the next time you see an Irish stereotype pop up on, say, Google News, ignore it. Move on. Or at least question it, take it with a pinch of salt. After all, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you may want to consider the possibility that it is not, in fact, a duck.

As some of you will be aware (hello, Denmark), it could be a beautiful swan. Or we’ll accept being one of the less-annoying breeds of seagull.

Anyway, apologies for the intrusion. Everyone here says hello and hopes you have a great 2013. Just keep sending those cheques.

Only joking! (A wire transfer will suffice.)

Kind regards, Ireland.

@shanehegarty

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